On our day tours of the Cotswolds we encourage our customers to use local independent businesses (where possible) during their time in both Stratford-upon-Avon and the Cotswolds.
We have a fantastic array of tourist attractions, pubs, restaurants, shops, cafes, tea rooms and accommodation providers in the area all run by talented and passionate locals who provide high quality products and services. By encouraging our visitors to use these companies we hope that not only the local economy will benefit but the visitor’s experience to the area will be enriched by it too.
We do the same when it comes to running Go Cotswolds – we’re a small independent business ourselves after all, so we’ll always aim to source the things we need to operate our business from other local companies. Only this week for example we had leaflets printed at local printers Bloomfields in Bidford on Avon and had a new print for our minibus rear window fitted by the vehicle wrap specialists at Space Graphic Solutions in Wixford.
Recently we’ve taken that into our personal life too!
Tom and I usually do our weekly food shop at one of the big chain supermarkets on the edge of Stratford-upon-Avon. Though I’ve come to accept it as a necessary evil, it’s not an experience I often look forward to.
Sitting in the traffic along Birmingham Road is only part of the problem. There’s finding a parking space, wrestling with a wonky trolley, glaring artificial lighting that makes my head hurt, queues at the checkouts, and the horrible feeling that I’m being constantly bombarded with subliminal marketing messages to get me to buy products I didn’t know I needed or wanted.
Recently, finding our fridge all but empty, I realised it was time, once again, to make the dreaded weekly pilgrimage to the supermarket. But then I had a brain wave. Did I really need to get in the car to burn fuel and waste time in traffic to go to a faceless supermarket to get stressed out by checkouts and trolleys? Could I get everything I needed locally, in my home town of Alcester?
I’m ashamed to say it’s something I’d not really thought about before. Though I regularly use the local post office, hairdressers and bank, and will use our local Waitrose when we’ve run out of milk or bread, I’d never considered the possibility that I might be able to do ALL my shopping right on my doorstep. I decided to give it a try!
Armed with some plastic bags and a list of the things I needed, I walked the 3 minutes from my door to Alcester High Street. It was a lovely sunny day and there were plenty of people strolling around or eating and drinking in one of Alcester’s pubs and cafés. So far so good!
My first stop was Five A Day, a small, family-run greengrocer’s shop on Alcester High Street. Although I couldn’t get all of the fruit and vegetables on my list, I did get the vast majority of them, and considered the fact that perhaps not all of the things I wanted were in season anyway. The lady behind the counter was lovely and friendly, and even recommended some fresh duck eggs. I needed eggs anyway, so I bought them, and I can testify to the delicious poached duck eggs I had for my lunch!
I then popped across the road to the convenience store, Simply Fresh. Although this is in fact a part of a small chain, it is a Midlands-based franchise, with the Alcester store being run by a friendly local family. The company has a strong emphasis on locally sourced products, with a brilliant selection of fruit and vegetables from nearby growers, local dairy products and fresh bread from a Droitwich bakery. For a fairly small shop, I was surprised to find many of the things on my list I just didn’t imagine I would be able to get on the high street; things like proper Greek feta cheese, a huge range of herbs and spices, a wonderful selection of organic ‘whole foods’ like quinoa, couscous, dried beans and pulses. I managed to get everything else on my food shopping-list from Simply Fresh!
At this point I did have to return home to drop my shopping bags off as my arms were about to fall off, but I wasn’t quite done yet.
First I made a quick stop at Harry & Floss on Market Place, a haberdashery where I picked up the solitary yellow button I needed for a craft project. Harry & Floss is like a sweet shop for me – the huge selection of fabrics, yarns and crafty knick-knacks is hard for a crafter to resist! They also run weekend craft workshops, and after-school craft clubs for kids too.
Next I visited Mooch, a wonderful independent shop with a huge and varied range of homewares, garden accessories and gift items for all occasions. The products they sell are genuinely lovely, and often sourced from independent designers and producers. The shop is a deceptively large warren of fascinating little rooms, and in one of these I found some unique greetings cards. The staff behind the counter were super friendly and genuinely appreciated my custom.
Next I popped into the Acorns charity shop, just to browse really, but ended up buying a very cute little soft toy as a gift for our friends’ new baby. I felt slightly guilty about buying a present from a charity shop, as if there was something dirty about it, but the toy looked brand new and the proceeds all go towards supporting a children’s hospice in nearby Birmingham. Why should I feel guilty about that?
Finally, I stopped off at Cienna of Alcester Flowers on Market Place to purchase a bouquet for my mother-in-law. I’ve walked past this place a hundred times, since it’s a couple of doors down from Waitrose, but I’d never been in, until now! I was hoping to quickly pop in and picked up a ready-made bunch of flowers, but being the day before Mother’s Day, there were no pre-prepared bouquets left and the staff were rushed off their feet creating orders for customer deliveries. Despite this, a gorgeous bouquet to suit my budget was put together within minutes, beautifully wrapped in coloured paper and cellophane, and an ‘aqua box’ to keep the flowers fresh thrown in at no extra charge. I was even offered a free Mother’s Day card, although I’d already bought one at Mooch.
I genuinely enjoyed my local shopping experience and I can say with certainty that I will be doing it again!
For anyone who might argue that shopping locally would be more expensive: I spent the same amount of money in Alcester as I would have at the supermarket. While some individual food items may have been slightly more expensive, simply because small business owners cannot compete with the hard bargains and economies of scale that the supermarket giants enforce on our producers, at the same time I wasn’t tempted by all sorts of impulse buys that the supermarket throws in your face at every turn. The quality of produce was as good if not better than the supermarket, plus I didn’t have to spend money on petrol to drive to the nearest big town.
Finally, bearing in mind what I said at the start about hating the “dreaded weekly pilgrimage to the supermarket”, the main thing that sticks in my mind is how friendly the local shopkeepers of Alcester are! I was genuinely made to feel welcome and appreciated in each and every shop I visited, and several even thanked me for ‘shopping local’. My stress levels were low, I had a smile on my face, and even though I did have to make two trips, I believe I saved time by not sitting in traffic on the Birmingham Road!